Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Places that I want to visit (part 1)

…But that are either impossible or difficult to visit.
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Number one on the list would be the Temple Mount of Jerusalem. A lot of the violence and struggle between Muslims and Jews in the Middle East is due to this rocky hill. Why? Because the Jews once had a temple on top of it, that was destroyed several times. The Muslims have the rock, from which Muhammad ascended into heaven. Now the Muslims have a Dome of the Rock and a mosque  atop the hill. The Jews are not allowed to step foot on the hill, since they don’t know for sure where the Holy of Holies, the back room of the Temple, once was. Now they pray at the exposed retaining wall at the base of the hill. That’s a brief summary of a complicated and tense arrangement.

Why do I want to go there? Because apparently there are a bunch of tunnels and secret passages beneath the Temple Mount, with much speculation as to what might have been stashed away down there. Excavation of the area is frowned upon, because one party or the other might try to blow up the others’ holy site. It’s really a pity, because of all the archeological information that must be left up there. They probably didn’t stash the Ark of the Covenant down there, since Jerusalem was sacked several times, and the Ark was probably hauled off by someone or other.

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The Foundation Stone beneath the Dome of the Rock has a hole in it, which leads down to a cavern called the Well of Souls. I find that to be irresistibly intriguing. However, the same condition that lends this place its mystique, that of being a sacred space, makes detailed excavations and surveys politically impossible.

HMSTerrorThrownUpByIce

Number Two on my list is the wreck of the HMS Terror. In 1845 the converted bomb ship (a reinforced bombardment craft) was sent along with her sister ship, the Erebus (bomb ships were named after volcanoes), into the arctic circle to try and find a way from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, via the Northwest Passage. They got about halfway through, and then were never heard from again. A note dating from 1848 said that John Franklin, the commander of the expedition, and 23 men had died and that the rest were abandoning the ships and trying to make their way south across the ice.  There were no survivors, and search parties had to piece together what happened from the bones and debris left by the expedition. The Terror has never been found, and marine archeologists suspect that she is lying intact on the ocean floor, preserved by the frigid waters that doomed her crew.

To visit such a ship would be like stepping into a time machine. In the 1980s an expedition exhumed some of the crew who had died early on in the voyage, and there is something eerie about looking at their photographs: the corpses still have their eyes, skin color, and clothes perfectly preserved. If either of the ships were ever found, who knows but that more of the crew might be still aboard, and could tell us more about their mysterious fate.

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Number Three, like Two, could be considered an artifact or a place, depending on your point of view. In the 1980s, a New Yorker named Bob Diamond rediscovered the first subway tunnel ever built under New York City, dating back to 1844. Ever since then, speculation has persisted that there may be an early steam locomotive and carriages buried in the unexcavated portions of the tunnel. I think the notion of a intact train, lying forgotten on its siding under bustling city streets, beckons the imagination.

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Number Four is a different tunnel, built in 1880 as an attempt to link England with France under the English Channel. 108 years later, the crews working on the Chunnel happened upon this earlier channel tunnel, which extended 3/4 of a mile beneath the sea. This forgotten space, a path to nowhere, has since been sealed off and flooded.